November 15th, 2012

What Brings You To The Mat..

By Manduka Ambassador Jessica Lesley

After a recent "yoga rebellion", where my frustration with the extreme focus on asana kept me out of classes for a few months, I developed a renewed commitment to the other seven limbs of the practice.

This rebellion came at a time where I was seeing blog posts and articles detailing the potential injuries involved with asana, and reading the comments from angry yoga practitioners - and teachers. Most of the postures in question were inversions and arm balances, the ones that make for awesome photo shoots, "oooh and ahhh" worthy magazine covers, and a boat load of "likes" on instagram. While I do not feel that the magazines or websites with yogis in pretzel like states of inversions have ill intentions, it made me wonder why are these poses are so important to us in the first place?

I took my first yoga class in a desperate attempt to end my daily panic attacks, to have some quiet time during a time of loss in my family, and also to make peace with my body image issues. In those early classes, I was not this honest with myself let alone anyone else. It was easy to say, "I'm going to yoga to be more flexible". I could avoid the reaction to speaking my truth and saying "I'm going to yoga because I am terrified of my own thoughts and am in need of peace".

To be honest, at one point in my practice, I bought into the idea that an "advanced" practice consisted of jumping back to chaturunga or effortlessly floating up into handstand in the center of the room. These movements require much focus and strength, but wasn't I already demonstrating those qualities in chair pose or by sticking to my mediation practice twice a day? The feeling of wanting to recreate postures I’d seen on magazine covers came to an end upon learning that many of my favorite cover yogis had regular chiropractic appointments or were nursing injured shoulders and bulging discs.. It was not a moment of judgement but more of a wake up call that there is more to this practice than posing.

After my initial 200 teacher training (which primarily covered asana with a bit of philosopy and chakra talk thrown in), I went on to study with Jill Miller of Yoga Tune Up®. My training with Jill focused on how to "live better in your own body". We broke down postures step by step to truly understand what goes into proper alignment and more importantly safely doing a pose. There was also a significant amount of time spent on how the nervous system functions, and on how the way we breathe can impact stress and anxiety. This has made it very difficult to focus on the poses I once loved or aspired to "perfect" and allowed me to let go of certain postures that are not meant for my body (non-attachment or Vairagya is a wonderful addition to any practice).

A recent post by Glenn Black put what I have been feeling into words.

"It’s not that Black doesn’t believe in the power of asana (for those few whose bodies have been properly prepared). Rather, he’s revolted by the way asana has been adulterated and overtaken the meaning of yoga today. “If you want to really develop in yoga, you’ve got to get past the insignificance of asana and really develop the mind.”

I too believe in the power of asana. I also know that asana alone is not what stopped the anxiety, or helped me move past old hurt and insecurities. This practice can have profound changes in the lives of many people, but our fascination with asana masquerading as yoga can be intimidating. Yoga helped me to slow down, to honor the body I have today, not the one I will have after a few more years of practice and working out. Taking my studies beyond asana helped to dive deeper into personal traumas and find peace. This inner awareness both on an anatomical and emotional level is why I ended the rebellion and got back on my mat.

Jessica is a Los Angeles based Yoga and Yoga Tune Up® . Yoga Tune Up® Instructor. You can find out more about her on her website

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